In a normal season, the sight of the worst team in the National Basketball Association would be as heartwarming to the Washington Bullets as the offer of a free lunch.
In a normal season, the Bullets would forget that their five-game winning streak had just reached an inglorious end, and they would lick their chops at the chance to start another one with such easy meat.
But this is not a normal season. Dick Motta, the Bullet coach, knows it and he is afraid that Tuesday's opponents, the Milwaukee Bucks, know it, too, even though their 12-28 record leads the league only in dreariness.
"I always thought you were supposed to play .500 ball on the road and then really clean up at home," Motta said today upon arriving in this snow-bound outpost. "But now . . ."
He looked around helplessly. "But now . . ." Words failed him again. Finally, he just shrugged and changed the topic of conversation.
Unfortunately for Motta, the record book will tell you everything he can't stand to talk about. Saturday night's 114-107 loss in Cleveland dropped the Bullets' traveling record to 5-13, which wouldn't be impressive for a band of hobos, much less pretenders to a championship.
Beyond that, the Bucks, winners of eight of their last 11 games, have not been very gracious hosts since Don Nelson took over as coach and hired K.C. Jones, Motta's predecessor, as his assistant.
The many-splendored Philadelphia 76ers were the latest to be informed of the change in policy at Milwaukee Arena. They walked into the joint with their guard down on Saturday and got ambushed, 111-106.
"I think the home crowds have something to do with what's going on," said Elvin Hayes, the Washington scoring machine. "They get on the referees a little bit and that seems to affect the way the fouls go. And sometimes a guy you don't expect to hurt you will hear the roar of the crowd and go crazy."
Exhibit No. 1 in Hayes' argument is what happened to the Bullets against the Central Division-leading Cavaliers. With Campy Russell, Bingo Smith and Austin Carr doing whatever they darned well pleased, a nobody named John Lambert came in to discombobulate Mitch Kupchak and hit all four of his shots from the field.
"If Lambert was on the road," Hayes said afterward, "he probably would have gone 0 for four."
It would be nice if the vagaries of travel were all Motta had to worry about. But a couple other problems have popped up to rob him of more sleep than he already is losing in this perplexing season.
One is the Bullets' seeming inability to get the ball to Phil Chenier when he is hot. And he has been hot in his last three games, scoring 28 points twice and 26 once.
"We have these lapses where we just forget about him," said Motta, who watched the crime in silence against Phoenix on Friday and then sounded off when it was repeated in Cleveland.
Leonard Robinson has been as cold in the shooting department as Chennier has been hot. That is the Bullets' other crying problem at the moment.
But let us not bid a momentary adieu to the Bullets thinking they are the only team in the NBA with problems. Milwaukee, for example, has a problem playing at forward. His name is Bob Dandridge and he is a problem because he can't get the Buck management to fork over all the bucks he wants.
After outshining Julius Erving and George McGinnis, the Philadelphia millionaires, on Saturday, Dandridge proclaimed, "I think I proved I'm worth the same thing they are get- [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Maybe Motta's problems aren't so bad after all.